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Updated: Mar 6

Here's a list of my top PERENNIAL faves for the urban mini food forest garden. If you would like help designing your food forest or choosing the perfect plants for you, contact Marni!

Evergreen Herbs

These herbs add to the shrub layer of a food forest. Plant them in a sunny spot and spread them out throughout your garden to attract pollinators and beneficial insects. These evergreen herbs do not lose their stems and keep their leaves over winter. This means your urban food forest will have some interest all through the winter!

Lavender: trim back/harvest spent flowers in the late fall. Pollinators love them all, but for culinary uses choose English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia).

Rosemary: I could not live without Rosemary in my garden. Check the mature size as some Rosemary plants can get to be over 6 feet tall and could almost be considered as the tree layer of your food forest!

Thyme: So many wonderful varieties. Plant it at the edge of the garden and let it spill over a rockery. Pollinators love the flowers. Try some thyme tea next thyme :) you have a cough or respiratory issues.*

Sage: I love having several varieties, including standard garden sage and purple sage. Low shrub that keeps it's leaves. Harvesting lessens in winter but resumes with new growth in spring.

Mint Family, Oregano, etc: Keep it in a pot or let it be free to wander. Oregano and mint family plants are a must for the pollinators and for the kitchen. There are certain varieties that aren't as spready, such as Golden Oregano.

Be sure to keep track of your plant varieties: I use aluminum tags, like these, to mark trees and shrubs, or these in-ground markers work great for marking where your true perennials are planted.

Evergreen Shrubs

Tea plant (Camelia sinensis): Evergreen medium size shrub is great for winter interest. If you're a tea drinker or know someone who is, this is a MUST have for your food forest. Dry the leaves and make your own green or black tea.

Edible Groundcovers

The groundcover layer makes use of the space under your tree layer. The groundcover layer can also be planted with self-seeding herbs and flowers like calendula, borage, and feverfew.

Strawberry: I love the everbearing strawberry varieties and I especially love the little alpine strawberries. Spreads by runners to create an edible groundcover. Kids and adults love the white alpine strawberries!

Wintergreen: Low spreading ground cover and good in part shade areas. Red, or pink, berries have the classic wintergreen flavor and can be used for flavoring foods.*

Herbs: Mint Family (as above)

Fruiting trees & Shrubs

Fruit trees: There are so many great dwarfing varieties of pear, apple, and cherry, among others. Make sure you read the mature size as the root stock can differ and still be quite tall for a "semi-dwarf" variety. There are even "mini-dwarf" varieties that only mature to around 5 or 6 feet.

I especially love espalier fruit trees and columnar apple varieties for small spaces. Plus they are easier to prune and maintain and both work well in large pots that you can use to grow trees on your sunny patio or front driveway! Just don't forget to water every day in the summer.

Blueberry: There are highbush and low bush, make sure you check the mature height before you buy it. These do best in FULL sun. There are a few evergreen varieties that are wonderful additions to a front yard food forest since they keep their leaves all year. Great fall leaf color as well.

Honeyberry (Lonicera caerulea): The first fruits of spring! I also love these for part shade locations but they do as well in sun, early ripening, elongated blue berries. Need two for pollination.

Aronia (Aronia Melanocarpa): Edible tart purple berries that birds love too, great fall leaf color.

Cane fruits: Raspberries, blackberries, etc. Spread by roots so keep in pots or dedicated

raised bed or prepare to dig out runners each year.

Currants and gooseberries: Both are great options for a part shade garden. Make sure to get disease resistant varieties as some can harbor white pine rust.

Persimmon: Ok, it's mature height is 15 feet, so maybe not for every urban food forest, but it's the perfect small tree for a larger suburban lot. It can be a stunning specimen tree in the fall.

Quince: I love the contorted variety because it stays small and provides winter interest. Begins flowering in late winter before leaves. Need two varieties for fruit.

Fig: Who doesn't love figs? Fig trees can be quite tall and wide at maturity, but there are many dwarfing varieties now. My favorite for the Seattle area is Olympian.

Nut Trees

Hazelnut/Filbert: Mature size varies but is generally 15-18' and you need two for pollination, so you need some room to grow these. And squirrels love the nuts, so be prepared to share.

Vining (if space):

The vine layer of a traditional food forest can sometimes make use of the tree layer as a trellis. However, in an urban setting this is usually not very practical. However, having tall arbors growing vines can add height and interest to your garden and mimic the small tree layer.

Grapes: Need a very sturdy trellis or arbor. Grapes need pruning each year or will be a jumbled mess of vines and fruit will get moldy from lack of air circulation. Check to see if the variety you want needs a pollinator.

Hardy kiwi: Same as above. Need two for pollination. These tiny kiwi fruit or "berries" are so tasty and plentiful it's worth the work to create a space for them.

Akebia (Akebia quinata) aka chocolate vine: Aggressive vine and needs a very tall and strong arbor. Need a male and female for fruit. Everyone will ask what this is. It's a beautiful vine with dainty chocolate colored and scented flowers. I have not found the fruit to be all that great, but it's sure fun to see it and have folks try it. If you don't care about fruit you only need to get one.

True Perennials

These food forest plants die back at end of season. Plant them between evergreen shrubs and trees that provide winter interest.

Artichoke & Cardoon: You can't have too many artichoke plants. Everyone should have at least two! Even if you don't like to eat artichokes, the flowers are magnificent and I would grow them for that alone. Leaves also have medicinal uses. Cardoons are a relative and are bigger with smaller flowers. The stems of cardoons are edible after blanching.*

Echinacea (Echinacea purperea): Medicinal uses

Comfrey: Leaves used as “green manure” to build soil. Roots are used medicinally. Great flowers for pollinators. Russian or Bocking 14 (Symphytum x uplandicum) is sterile so does not spread. Common comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is the best for medicinal use but spreads by roots can be aggressive.

Rhubarb: Rhubarb is easy to grow and produces a lot of food. Mine does well in semi-shade, making it one of the few edibles that can take some shade.

Many of these plants and more are available to purchase online at the Growing Roots Together nursery! Click below to check current availability and to order. Local delivery only or arrange pick up in Lynnwood.


*Consume plants at your own risk: please do your own research and make sure you know the plant and it's uses/potential side effects before eating or using medicinally.

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Starting your seeds indoors allows you to choose from a greater variety of vegetables. Seeds are also a lot less expensive than purchasing starts from the garden center. And, it's fun!

Below are a few helpful tips on what types of seeds are right for indoor seed starting and which ones aren't. Also, I've listed some links to planting calendars that will give you some guidance on when to start your seeds for the Seattle/Puget Sound area.

Take a class with Marni and learn all you need to know to get started growing! Learn all about soils, trays/containers, lighting, transplanting, and more. Seed starting classes are offered annually, generally beginning in February.

Cool Crops

Cool Crops are started in late winter for early spring plantings and again in late summer for fall planting and overwintering crops.

Lettuce, greens (can also be direct seeded)

Swiss chard

broccoli/cabbage/cauliflower/kohlrabi/mustards/ brussels sprouts

Herbs, perennial


Flowers/Herbs, annual: cilantro, dill, parsley, calendula


Leeks/onions (see note below)

Note about Leeks & Onions: You can plant directly into garden after hardening off. Can also be started directly in potting soil (versus seedling mix). Trim tops if they get too tall before transplanting.

Heat Lovers

Summer crops aka heat loving crops are best to start indoors due to our short summer season. These crops need a long hot summer to thrive so starting them indoors in March gives them a head start. These crops will benefit from being "up potted" to progressively larger pots. For example: starting the seeds in seed starting mix and then, after they get the first set of true leaves, potting up to 4" pots in potting soil and then into gallon pots.







Larger Seeded Summer Crops

Seed these in 4-inch pots or paper pots (see info below) directly in potting soil. By spring the weather outside may be warm enough to direct seed some of these as well. Check your seed packet for the ideal germination temperature or see resources below.

Artichoke/Cardoon (can be started in late winter)

Peas (can also direct seed in late February - March)


Sunflowers: paper pots preferred

Cucumbers: paper pots or tplant within three weeks of germinating

Squash: paper pot or tplant within three weeks of germinating




*requires germination temps above 65 degrees or more

What's a Paper Pot?

Make your own ecofriendly compostable pots for seeding things like sunflower, squash and cucumbers. The pots in the photo to the left are easily made from recycled newspaper. Just google 'newspaper pots garden' and you will find a bunch of videos showing you how!

After the plant has grown two sets of true leaves, plant the whole thing paper pot and all! This means less disturbance for the plant roots and healthier plants.

Direct Seed Only

Below is a list of crops that are best to seed directly in the garden

These veggies do best planted directly into your garden. Root vegetables do not like to have their tap roots disturbed so do not do well being transplanted. Fast growing vegetables like radish and spinach are ready to harvest quickly and also germinate in cool temperatures so there is no need to start them indoors.

Root Vegetable/Tap rooted veg:

Fast growing veg:


Corn Salad






Pac Choi/Asian greens


Lettuce (can be started indoors or direct seeded)


Last Frost Date Calculator

Soil Temps & Planting Depth: Territorial Seed planting chart

What to start when: Vegetable planting chart, Uprising Seeds

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Updated: Jan 25

Some of my favorite local seed companies!

It's winter here in the PNW and the garden may be resting but it's time for gardeners to get busy planning for spring & summer gardening! You may already be getting seed catalogs in the mail and, like me, sat down with your sharpie and some tea or maybe even a glass of wine to start marking the must-haves for this season.

I love shopping for seed in the dark days of winter and imagining the lush spring and summer garden in full production. Before you go crazy here are a few things to consider and a few of my favorite seed companies and resources:

The Benefits of Planting from Seed

There are many benefits of purchasing seed versus transplants. Here are just a few:

  1. Cost - Pre-grown garden starts are expensive. A six-pack of starts can cost you as much as an entire seed packet with 30 or more seeds.

  2. Quantity - As above, purchasing seeds gains you a lot more plants. This is especially important for the produce that you enjoy the most or use a lot of, like lettuce and greens.

  3. Success - the success rate of plants started in the garden from seed is improved due to better acclimation and root development. Transplanting always causes some stress to plants. Plus, you know where the seed came from and that it is acclimated to your climate.

  4. Variety - Unique and rare heirlooms, organic, and many unique varieties are available from seed that are not available as starts in your local nursery. Nurseries can only carry so many varieties and often growers choose only popular varieties that buyers will recognize.

Choosing Seeds

When choosing what seeds to purchase, it is important that you purchase seeds that are local to your growing climate. Here in the Pacific Northwest, I choose seed from growers in Washington and Oregon. The seeds from these companies are from plants grown successfully in our region, meaning they are adapted to our climate conditions and will have better success rates.

Before choosing a new-to-you seed company, it's important to do your own research:

  • Do they grow their own seed or purchase from others?

  • Do they have a commitment to sourcing from local growers?

  • What are the growing practices? Do they grow organically or have a commitment to sustainable agriculture?

Buyer beware: There are a few 'seedy' sellers on marketplace sites like Facebook and Etsy that often times purchase from other companies and repackage it as their own. Some of these companies do not provide growing information or date their seed packets so you have no guarantee of the age of the seed.

Learn more about the Open Source Seed Initiative and "Free the Seed"

Plan now for summer crops and indoor seed starting

Plan to purchase your summer seeds now so you are ready to start some seeds indoor in early spring. Some plants require a longer growing season so must be started indoors six to eight weeks ahead of the first frost and transitioned out into the garden after the temperatures increase. Tomatoes and peppers are examples of warm weather crops that need to be started indoors in early spring in order to reach maturity by the end of our short growing season.

Need help deciding what to start indoors versus direct seeding? See the resource lists below for links to my favorite planting guides from Territorial Seeds and Uprising Seeds. And, check out my upcoming classes including Seed Starting and Spring Gardening as well as gardening services such as coaching, design and planting plans!

Take a Class: If you are new to indoor seed starting and feeling a little overwhelmed by the idea of it, check out my upcoming Indoor Seed Starting Classes that begin in February!

Here's a list of my favorite local (PNW) seed companies:

Some links are provided below, however, please see the respective websites for up to date info and policies.

Adaptive Seeds

  • Located in Oregon

  • ALL organic, see their seed pledge here

  • Great info on learning to save your own seed

Ed Hume Organics

  • The lowest price for organic seed, however not much selection

  • FREE Shipping on orders over $50

  • Get a FREE seed packet to grow for their PLANT A ROW FOR THE HUNGRY program

Strictly Medicinal Seeds

  • Located in Southern Oregon

  • ALL organic

  • Unique and unusual medicinal herbs, plus lots of veggies too

  • Thorough growing information on their site and seed packets

  • Free shipping with a $20 purchase (seed packets only)

Territorial Seeds

  • Located in Oregon

  • Great selection of organic options

  • Seed packets and catalog have comprehensive growing info. Excellent for beginning gardeners!

  • The most accurate growing guides for the PNW region

Uprising Seeds

If you have any questions or would like help planning your garden, contact Marni at or click the button below for more information about garden coaching and garden design services.

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